“He Leadeth Me” (1862)
Bible Text: Psalm 23:3 | Preacher: Bev Wiens | Series: The Background to some of our most memorable hymns. |
“He Leadeth Me” (1862)
He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Psalm 23:3
“He leadeth me O blessed thought!
O words with heavenly comfort fraught.
Whate’er I do, where’er I be,
still ‘tis God’s hand that leadeth me.
He leadeth me, He leadeth me,
by His own hand He leadeth me.
His faithful follower I would be,
for by His hand, He leadeth me.”
On autumn nights as we sleep peacefully in our beds, millions of songbirds travel under cover of darkness, heading south. Somehow, they know their way. God has given them a state-of-the-art internal guidance system. We are more valuable than many sparrows. If God guides His creations, will He not also guide His children? The psalmist thought so, saying, “He leadeth me, He leadeth me” (Psalm 23:3)
Dr. Joseph H. Gilmore, son of a Governor of New Hampshire, gave this account of writing his famous hymn on this theme.
As a young man recently graduated, I was supplying for a couple of Sundays in the pulpit of the First Baptist Church in Philadelphia. At the midweek service, on the 26th of March, 1862, I set out to give the people an exposition of the Twenty-third Psalm, which I had given before on three or four occasions, but this time I did not get further than the words “He Leadeth Me.” Those words took hold of me as they had never done before, and I saw in them a significance . . . of which I had never dreamed.
It was the darkest hour of the Civil War. I did not refer to that fact — that is, I don’t think I did – but it may subconsciously have led me to realize that God’s leadership is the one significant fact in human experience, that it makes no difference how we are led, or whether we are led, so long as we are sure God is leading us.
At the close of the meeting a few of us in the parlor of my host Deacon Watson, kept on talking about the thought I had emphasized; and then and there, on a blank page of the brief, from which I had intended to speak, I penciled the hymn, talking and writing at the same time, then handed it to my wife and thought no more about it.
She sent it to “The Watchman and Reflector”, a paper published in Boston, where it was first printed. I did not know until 1865 that my hymn had been set to music by William B. Bradbury. I went to Rochester to preach as a candidate before the Second Baptist Church. Going into their chapel, I picked up a hymnal to see what they were singing, and opened it at my own hymn, “He Leadeth Me”.